She acknowledges that she doesn't visit with her parents as often as "perhaps I should," but attributes that as much to her family's schedule as to uneasiness with her father's illness. She is employed as a reading specialist at Bladensburg Elementary School, and her two sons are involved with youth sports.
"He's like a totally different person," she says. "The hardest thing to accept is his overall behavior around everybody. It bothers me more than it does the others. ... I just get nervous. I don't feel comfortable being around him by myself. His behavior is like a time bomb."
'Whatever it takes'
By all accounts, John Mackey has never physically harmed anyone, but there is the constant dread that someday that could change, and perhaps require him to be placed in a facility where he would receive around-the-clock supervision.
"He's talked a good game, but John's never been violent," his wife says. "But I do worry about it. I have a feeling that there's going to be an incident that's going to make me realize that I have to do something else."
As a football celebrity, Mackey always received preferential treatment, "so now, if we have to stand in line, he becomes belligerent," Sylvia says. "He becomes very determined. It's me, me, me -- nobody's going to tell me what to do." She carries a letter from a psychiatrist so that airport security treats her husband gently, "or he might go off."
Friends say Sylvia Mackey has been remarkable in caring for her husband while also holding down a fulltime job with United and still accepting occasional modeling assignments.
"She has never complained," says Wright. "She makes the most out of a tough situation. She does whatever it takes."
Her daughter, Laura, thinks her mom "needs some support right now," but adds that Sylvia has never asked for assistance.
"I ask, 'Mom, what can I do to help?' but I'm still waiting for the answer," she says.
Sylvia's response is stoic. "It's my burden. Everybody's got their own problems," she says.
But clearly she sees herself as up to the task. "I read where 43 percent of the caregivers die before the patient dies," she says. "I'm not going to be one of those 43 percent. I love life, I have a good time, and I'm happy. I know what to expect."
Her only hope is for a cure, though she acknowledges: "That's not going to happen. But that's want I'd want. I don't want to see him go downhill."
While others try to adjust to the changes in John, she somehow sees the silver lining.
"I'll tell you one thing," Sylvia says, "I've heard, 'I love you' more in the last two years than I heard in the first 38 years."
Book took a team
The book Blazing Trails: Coming of Age in Football's Golden Era (Triumph Books, $24.95) is described by the publisher as John Mackey's autobiography.
That's something of a stretch, even for the as-told-to genre often used for books about athletes. Mackey's mental illness prevented him from writing or telling much of his story, and the book covers only half his life.